SATURDAY, MAY 21 — AUGUSTA, MT
Andrew left Fort Peck on Sunday May 8th and began hiking through the Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge. This was the week of heavy storms rolling through the Midwest..
On Tuesday, May 10th, it was raining as Andrew was setting up his shelter. Andrew woke up at 5:15am and it was still raining, so he went back to sleep. He awoke again at 7:00am and it was snowing. Andrew described his first experience with “gumbo mud,” which is a “true, well-known, Montana thing.” Andrew said: “Gumbo mud is wet, sticky clay/mud that attaches to the bottom of your shoes and continues to accumulate pine needles, cow manure and other stuff as it works its way up the sides and top of your shoes. Eventually, the weight of the mud surpasses its ability to stick to the shoes and it falls off…. all at once. Unfortunately, one never knows when that will happen. Shoes that weigh an extra 4 pounds with one step are 4 pounds lighter with the next. Your leg suddenly rises quickly without all of that extra mud/weight. When the gumbo mud dries, it is like cement. It quickly accumulates in the wheel wells of cars and trucks so it also very difficult for vehicles to navigate through gumbo mud.” Fortunately, the snow did not accumulate, but it certainly added variety to Andrew’s hiking adventure.
The Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge is 140 miles of beautiful terrain along the Missouri River. At this point the Missouri is free-flowing. Andrew said: “The willow trees were budding and the mule deer were grazing in the meadows.” As he approached the western edge of the Refuge, he began to meet people fishing for paddlefish. On Andrew’s advice, we checked out pictures of paddlefish on the Internet. These fish can reach 80 pounds and have a 15-inch nose that resembles the tail on a beaver. Andrew got excited when a fisherman showed him a “40 pound paddlefish, which was very cool.”
During the week of May 15th, Andrew hiked toward Great Falls, Montana. He enjoyed the hospitality and companionship of two families this week. One family, the Molines, live on a large ranch outside Geraldine. Andrew enjoyed the company of the parents and their five children. The kids are home-schooled. They are so familiar with ranching and farm animals that they jump on their horses, bare-back, without a second thought. Andrew was amazed, since he has only ridden on a pony (in a saddle) when he was very young. Andrew also enjoyed the hospitality of a family on their Big Sag Ranch. Andrew had never met anyone who owned about 40,000 acres of land. This equals approximately 62 square miles. Andrew found the people and conversation about life on the ranch very interesting.
Andrew reached Great Falls, Montana on Wednesday, May 18th. This city environment was quite a surprise and change for Andrew. After hiking through very remotes sections of Montana for the past few weeks, it was an adjustment to enter Great Falls, a city of 80,000 people. Andrew enjoyed this opportunity to stay inside at a hotel, get a real shower and order pizza for dinner.
From Great Falls, Andrew hiked along the road to Augusta, Montana, arriving on Friday night, May 20th. The hike was beautiful with buttes, mesas and small island ranges. Dark rain clouds and rain storms came upon the ranges with rapid speed, dumped huge amounts of rain and then raced into the distance.
The Rockies have come into view. Andrew has been watching the Rockies loom ever larger, as he hiked all week. Andrew has been mentally preparing himself for the challenges of hiking through the Rocky Mountains. He told us: “My head is already in the Rockies and my body will get there on Sunday morning, May 22nd.”
Andrew admitted that he is both excited, intimidated and nervous about hiking through the Rocky Mountains. He bought “bear spray” (a 20 oz. container of something akin to mace). Andrew will take all recommended precautions, including “no cooking in the encampment area, tying my backpack and food via ropes off a high limb of a tree, etc.” We are saying extra prayers for Andrew as he proceeds through this area with all of its new challenges.
Andrew plans to meet Ryan Jordan, of Backpacking Light, on May 26th in East Glacier Park. Andrew is really looking forward to hiking with Ryan and having a skilled hiking companion to enjoy this adventure in the Glacier Park area.